Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Halloween Freebie as part of the Coffin Hop Web Tour!

Just last night I put up a free short story titled What Happens in Vegas... An Empire of Blood Short Story. This is a standalone story and does not require the reader to have read Shining in Crimson. In fact, I think it will be a great introduction to the world Shining in Crimson is set in and a nice little treat for those who have read Shining in Crimson. And let's face it, what better time to read a horror/dark fantasy story than Halloween? And it's free! And don't forget, I'm still giving away 2 free e-copies of Shining in Crimson to two lucky commenters. And to be clear, I'm going to count any comment on any of my posts since day one of the Coffin Hop (October 24th). Also, be sure and check out more of the other pages as they are also having giveaways and contests! Just go to: http://www.coffinhop.blogspot.com/ There are over 90 other blogs participating, so there are a lot of chances to win and lots of great free content to check out! And without further ado, here's a snippet of What Happens in Vegas... An Empire of Blood Short Story


Jackie didn't really think they would hurt innocent little girls. She had only meant to scare Karen, to have a little fun. But now her sister lay dead in the passenger seat and they would soon get Jackie, too.

The girls took off on Highway 15 South with the money Mom and Dad left for food while they went on their stupid little "second honeymoon." There was already plenty of food in the house they could take with them. She could use the food money for gas and they could go out for the night of their lives. But she couldn't tell Karen where they were going, no way. If Jackie had told her, she wouldn't have come along.

So, that morning, they packed up the car with the big cooler and headed southwest. Karen was just tall enough to see over the dashboard, but she mostly read on road trips. Jackie had always wanted to see the city, especially after Robby Shelton told her about all that was left behind. Las Vegas was a huge, wealthy city in its time. She thought about all the money that was just left to rot. Just one U.S. dollar in "acceptable" shape was worth fifty bucks these days.

"Now, if Mom or Dad call, remember, we're just in town getting something to eat."

"What if they call late at night and we're still out?"

"You let me handle that, kid."

"Hey, you're not much older than me, so shut it."

Jackie gave her sister the angry face and Karen quickly stuck her nose back into her book. Jackie turned her hungry eyes back to the road. Living in Cedar City, Utah, it was only about a three hour drive to the old city. And so long as they got out of there before dark, they would be just fine. They would even get home in time for Karen's bedtime and all would be right with the world.

When they crossed the state line into Nevada, Karen watched as the sign flew by, the golden rims of her glasses reflecting the bright sun in Jackie's eyes. Most of the drive was boring. Just more and more desert. Jackie was lucky enough that Karen's face stayed buried in her book when they passed the crossed-out sign that read Las Vegas 58 miles.

It was common knowledge that the closer to the city you came, the less people you found. And nobody kept you from driving right on in.

Jackie hadn't counted on just how big of a tourist attraction the city had been.  As they came up to the large sign, still mostly intact, that welcomed anybody and everybody to "Fabulous" Las Vegas, she couldn't help but gasp at what had been done to it. Karen looked up from her book and her complexion turned several shades paler.

Splotches of dried blood randomly adorned the sign and the word Necropolis seemed to be painted in dry blood right over "Las Vegas." The real thing was a far cry from the horror stories they had been told when they were younger. It was always the first thing out of Dad's mouth when they got in trouble. "Lying is a sin, Jackie. You don't wanna grow up and get sent to Necropolis, do you?" Or, "You know what the monsters in Necropolis do to people, don't you? They drink all their blood until they die. If you keep up this nasty behavior, that's where you'll go."

It took some time to calm Karen, but inevitably Jackie had to just be the boss and make her come along knowing that Karen was too scared to run away. Besides, there was all that desert out there and nobody for miles.

Jackie's friend Lori's older cousin had been sent to Necropolis. He had been caught kissing another boy and both of them were charged as homos. When Lori's aunt found out, she refused to talk to the boy anymore. It was hard for Jackie to believe that before the city had been taken, there were some states who actually allowed the homos to marry. A mix of guilt and anger waved over her at that thought.

"We're just gonna look around and try to find some cool things to bring back with us. It'll be awesome, trust me," Jackie said.

Karen didn't reply. Her book sat at her side as she stared all around at the tall, empty buildings and strange landmarks. Other than the engine and its echo off the buildings, the place was dead quiet. They drove by several huge buildings alongside a big green statue of a lady in a toga holding a torch above her head. It looked vaguely familiar to Jackie. She thought it might be something from history class.

After a while, they came to a huge replica of the Sphinx with a large dark pyramid sitting behind it. Jackie knew this was one of the places she should probably look. If there were treasures to be found, some of them would be here.

Jackie got out of the car and stood there just looking up at the huge thing. Most of the Sphinx's features were covered in sand from years of storms. A few spots of flat black could be seen through the dust covering the pyramid. If someone were to replace the other buildings with sand, the place would've looked just like Egypt.

"Come and look at this, Karen. It's so awesome," Jackie said.

Karen just sat in the car, looking pekid.

"Fine then," Jackie said as she came around to the passenger side of the car. She opened the door, grabbed Karen's arms, and pulled her from the car. "Come on. You shouldn't sit in here by yourself. I'm going inside, and like it or not, you're coming with me."

Karen let out a strange groan. Jackie couldn't believe how much her little sister was sweating. After a short struggle, Karen had no other choice but to come along.

Jackie flipped on the flashlight and tried one of the glass double doors. It was unlocked. The smell of rotting meat inside was nearly strong enough to gag Jackie, but she pulled her shirt up over her mouth and nose so she could breathe. Karen, however, didn't move fast enough and got hit hard enough to make her throw up.

"Oh god, can we please go back outside, Jackie? This is terrible."

"Just do what I'm doing and it's not so bad." Jackie laughed at Karen, who was leaned over, a long line of drool hanging from her mouth. She shined the flashlight all around the room as she waited for Karen. There were graying card tables, rusty slot machines, and large blank TV screens everywhere. It was all covered in cobwebs and a layer of dust thicker than Jackie had ever seen. But there was something else. She kept seeing other shapes in the shadows cast by the flashlight. They were so random she couldn't make them out. She started to walk toward one of them to get a closer look when a hand grabbed hold of her wrist. She jumped and let out a small scream. Karen screamed back at her.

"Don't go without me, I'm scared."

Jackie stood there a moment panting, wanting to beat her little sister over the head with her flashlight. When she caught her breath, she gripped Karen's hand too tight on purpose.

"Ow!"

"You want a guide, you got one." The two girls glared at each other and then Jackie headed back toward the shadow she had seen. Though Jackie had loosened her grip, their hands were still locked tight. God, her sister was such a scaredy-cat. She pointed the flashlight back to the card table she had seen the shape behind and headed toward it.

As she came closer, it seemed more and more to be a thicker layer of dust accumulated in a strange shape until she noticed the outline of the bony hand. Finally close enough, she shined the light full on the shape and the rest of the gray withered body, crumpled over the edge of the table, became clear. Underneath the bony hand were five cards and a thick coagulated pool of dried blood spreading out from the body's neck.

The sound that next came from Karen could have shattered a whole set of fine glasses. Jackie couldn't even find the good humor to laugh at her sister. The thought never occurred to her that they might find any bodies. Her own body started to shake without her consent. Just find where they kept the cash and then we can get the hell out of here, she told herself. She made up her mind before they even hit the road that she wasn't leaving this place without something to show for it.

Jackie backed away from the table, Karen hugging her arm. The flashlight cast more and more rising shadows everywhere she pointed it. The more they backed away, the more bodies became visible. Jackie turned to run, forgetting all about her little sister, when she tripped over something that felt like tree limbs against her legs. The flashlight flipped through the air, its randomly spinning beam resembling a disco ball. Then it landed with a thin crack and went dead, leaving the room in utter darkness. Karen screamed. Both girls were hyperventilating.

"Jackie!"

"I'm down here." Before Jackie could stop her, Karen moved toward her and fell forward in a rush on top of Jackie, knocking the wind out of her.

"Jackie, what was that?" Karen cried.

"I don't know, maybe some kind of bench?"

"Benches don't wear clothes." Both girls struggled away from the clothed "bench." Jackie thought about reaching around on the ground blindly to find the flashlight and quickly decided against it. Her eyes were still filled with the phantom glow of the flashlight, but she could remember the general direction they came in. She grabbed Karen's hand and pulled her along that way.

It didn't take long before they saw the small patch of light. It grew as they got closer, eventually revealing the glass doors it came through. Without hesitation, Jackie pushed through the door without stopping, dragging Karen along with her. Jackie turned and kicked the door, realizing she didn't get a single dollar bill from inside. I'll just go back with the flashlight and--Shit, the flashlight.

"Damn it!" she screamed, kicking the door over and over. Karen's bewildered expression, reflected in the bright glass of the door, snapped Jackie out of her fury and turned it to shame. She took a deep breath, sighed heavily, then flopped down Indian style and let her shoulders slump. How would she see to find some cash in any of these places without her flashlight? After seeing those bodies, there was no way she was going to try without it.

"Okay, let's go find somewhere else then," she said, smiling at Karen.

Karen just stared at her blankly.

"Oh, come on, don't be such a pussy, Karen."

Karen turned swiftly and stomped more than walked back to the car, got in, and slammed the door. Jackie laughed as she got up from the concrete and brushed off the back of her shorts.

They drove around for a long time. Some of the roads were completely blocked with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of cars. If they drove close enough, they could see the stiff, gray flesh of the bodies still inside. The ones with their throats torn out were the worst.

They saw their first one on North Main St. in a red Mustang convertible. He was wearing a blue camo hat that once tied around the throat. Now, both strings hung from the hat, threads hanging and blowing in the wind, framing the gaping blood-black hole where the man's adam’s apple had been. Jackie almost lurched, but managed to keep herself composed as Karen frantically sobbed about wanting to go home. When she looked back at her for an answer, Jackie made herself smile as she dug her fingernails into the steering wheel as casually as she could manage.

"Everything is fine. Stop whining. This'll be fun."

Karen's sobs died down some, but they didn't stop.

She’d been driving around in circles for the better part of an hour trying to figure out which building they should go in next. Then, the obvious choice stuck out like a sore thumb in her peripheral vision. She turned to look at the tall, white, scepter-looking building off in the distant northern sky. Jackpot. Had to be. She swerved the car northward at the next intersection.

Karen held tight to the door and seat as the car swung around. "What are you doing?"

"I just picked our next destination, sister, and you better perk up for this one, it looks awesome!"

"Where are we going now, Jackie, I told you I just want to go home, can't we just go home?" Her voice had taken on that whining tone again. The one that tore into Jackie's brain like nails on a chalkboard.

"Oh, shut up you little baby, we’re going to that one right there!" She pointed to the tall white needle-shaped building. It stood over the rest of the skyline looking like a giant bishop on a chess board.

Karen started to chew on her fingernails as Jackie slammed on the gas and swerved to miss the occasional abandoned car. Jackie noted the paleness of Karen's skin as they went along. Her first split second thought was that she looked like she belonged in the city. She almost felt guilty for the thought but instead shrugged it off and focused on the task at hand.

The large white building towered over them as they drove up the block. It had looked tall from afar, but now it looked even taller. And Karen was really beginning to be a drag, too. She had started shaking lightly and whimpering under her breath every now and then. What a big baby, Jackie thought. I can't believe how much Mom and Dad gawk over you, you little brat.

You could really see the damage to the buildings in this area. As they got closer and closer to the White Bishop, as Jackie had started calling it in her head, they saw large open spaces in some of the buildings and several appeared to have more gone than intact. Jackie was so busy looking at these tombs of decay that she didn't even notice all the debris in the road.

The ride got really bumpy all of a sudden, and before Jackie could even look at the road in front of her, there was a loud pop and the car seemed to jerk away from her. Karen seemed to convulse as the car spun out of control, and then with inertia still pulling at them, came to an abrupt stop facing away from the tower.

Jackie couldn't help but wonder if it was some kind of a sign, but she was already in too deep. She'd risked this much so far, why stop now.

Karen sobbed into her lap. Jackie looked her over. She seemed fine. Jackie felt a slight jarring pain in her neck but not enough to keep her from moving. She sighed and then got out of the car to investigate. The left front tire looked more like the remains of an exploded black cloth than a tire. It draped several large chunks of steel and concrete that mirrored hundreds of others Jackie was now noticing to be scattered all over the road.

Without thinking, she kicked one of the pieces and the shock of pain that tore into her foot almost sent her writhing on the ground.

"Fuuuuck!" she screamed. Her voice echoed back at her several times as the realization of just how fucked she and her sister were clicked in her head. No wonder Karen was so upset now. They were stranded in deep in Necropolis, their car broken down, and the sun would be gone in just over an hour or so. Jackie swallowed what felt like part of her throat as the words formed in her head.

We're dead, I've just killed us.

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